I came to Canada when I was 14 years old. When I arrived in Toronto, it didn’t register that this would be my permanent home. To me, it was a long extended vacation that I had to overcome in order to go back home, which was Manila, Philippines.
I always thought that by now I would have adjusted to seeing myself as Canadian. However, as much as I am starting to exhibit Canadian values and traits, it is only now that I’ve grown into adulthood 10 years later that I am starting to realize how incredibly non-Canadian I am, especially when I’m with a group of people who grew up together in Canada, talking about their childhood.
They forget that I didn’t grow up here as well, because from time to time they’d look at me for recognition — “Remember Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood?” No, in fact, I don’t — I didn’t grow up to Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood. I grew up to Batibot, Blue Blink and the Tagalog version of Bananas in Pyjamas (you must empathize me when I discovered that this show wasn’t, in fact, a Filipino original – it felt very surreal when I discovered that I was merely watching the dubbed version of B1 and B2).
While on our walk yesterday, my boyfriend and I realized that what I thought was a twinkie was in fact, a strawberry flakie. He couldn’t understand how I didn’t know what a twinkie was; it’s apparently a staple treat while growing up. But those weren’t my treats — my treats were dirty meringues and bananas deep-fried and covered in melted sugary goodness.
When my boyfriend and I first started going out 8 years ago, he made it his mission to introduce me to everything he enjoyed when he was a kid: from eating Kraft Dinner while in bed to enjoying every South Park episode ever made into existence, along with a Hungryman Dinner. I would try to explain to him the joy of sitting with your maids under mango trees and eating green mangoes with bagoong, while telling ghost stories about the monster capital in the Philippines: Capiz.
I would help him envision living weekends by the ocean, and how I captured a squid and a starfish and put them in a cooler, hoping to take them home as pets. When I checked in on them later in the evening, I was horrified to see nothing but blackness on what was once clear water — and upon reaching in to pet my creatures, came up with mutilated bits and pieces of starfish instead.
Even talking about our old accidents makes us marvel at the stark differences of our origins. While his scars can be attributed from single accidents in playgrounds, mine varied by intensity and environment: a long and deep cut on the side of my thigh from falling from the top of a natural waterfall, drowning not once in my life, but once every summer, and that time I almost died drowning in miserable, thick goo made of mud, pig food, and pig feces.
While he talked to me about his bullies and the fires they set in the fields of New Brunswick, I’d tell him about the nipa huts I slept in during the times I spent with my aunt in her farm, while the chickens crooned underneath the bamboo floors.
He would tell me about the afternoons he spent with his babysitter; I would tell him about the afternoons I visited the slums in Taguig (called the squatter area) to visit relatives, who would pepper me with money and food they didn’t have, and how my mother would reprimand me about accepting these gifts — about how, for the longest time, I assumed everyone was the same, and that money and hierarchy didn’t matter because I saw, first hand, what it was like to be stricken with poverty — and how the lack of money and material things never had any significant effect to the happiness and content they still experienced in their every day.
So when I sit with my friends and they talk about how they grew up wanting Swatches, and Tamagochis, I find myself not being able to relate. Because even though as a child, I had wanted the same things, it didn’t decide my childhood, nor mark it.
What I remember from my childhood is the environment, because that is what I cannot recapture: the warm, enveloping sun, the sounds of stray dogs barking, the smell of saltwater wafting in from the ocean, and that feeling of endless sand as soft as flour sifting through your fingers, embracing you deep into its melting arms.
I remember being grateful for the things I had, not constantly pining for the things I didn’t posses. I remember being perfectly happy by myself, because social connections did not define who I was. I remember having a sense of completion and progress, and having that knowledge nestled deep within me, because I didn’t feel the pressure of societal expectations.
I remember spending afternoons watching my dogs give birth, feeding my chickens, and climbing into people’s homes, pretending we were being chased by aswangs. I remember trying to convince my grandpa, my tatang, to stop giving me hundred peso bills, knowing he couldn’t afford it — so he built me a bamboo coin bank instead, so that I wouldn’t see the amount of money my relatives were giving me.
What I remember from my childhood is quite different from the childhood my friends remember in Canada, and I wonder if there is ever a time in my adulthood that I would be able to reconcile my childhood in the Philippines with the life I ended up living in Canada.
It just seems like the more that time pass, the more I feel disconnected from the country I made my second home, as I recall more and more vividly, the picturesque surreality of my old life, which I was too young and naive to understand and appreciate.